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SNOW is great fun if you're a kid building snowmen instead of going to school, but it's a right pain for us grown-ups if you're having to travel any distance.

A few weeks ago we ran a short news story on a winter driving course run by rally experts Prodrive.

As most of us have will have slithered to a standstill at least once over the past few days, suddenly a EUR120 course on not skidding into a ditch seemed even more relevant. So I've called Prodrive for a few winter driving tips.

Before we start, we need to look at the type of cars we're using.

Did you notice last winter that a lot of people in BMWs and Mercs were stuck on the side of the road? I did, and I wondered why it was happening.

According to Damian Harty, the engineer who's sorting the chassis of the Prodrive-built MINI rally car, luxury vehicles are far from ideal when the road goes white.

He says: "Adding downward pressure to a tyre increases grip. The trouble with executive cars is that their weight is spread more evenly, thereby reducing weight on the driven rear wheels.

"Front-wheel drive family hatchbacks are better in slippery conditions because the weight of the engine in the front puts weight on to the wheels."

Surely four-wheel is the answer? Damian says: "Yes, a four-wheel drive car has the advantage of sharing the driving force between four tyres, rather than two, so the wheels are less likely to lose traction and spin.

"However, while a four-wheel drive may be less likely to get stuck, it still has only four tyres on the road and is as likely to skid in a corner or slip when braking as any other car.' Harty's top tip is to fit your car with special winter tyres.

He says: "I fit them to my car every winter because they're by far the safest way to drive on both the snow and ice.

"They have a wider tread pattern to disperse snow and are made from a softer rubber than all-season tyres, which typically have most grip at temperatures above seven degrees.

"Winter tyres work better on wet and dry roads, too, not just snow."

So to the driving tips. The most important things to remember when driving in snow and ice, says Prodrive instructor Alex Weston, are to plan your journey before setting out and to stay alert at the wheel.

He says: "Look for out for shiny roads, brake lights in the distance - not just on the car in front of you- reduce speed when you see the road sloping downhill and don't drive too fast.

"Drive as smoothly as possible, with no sharp braking, no hitting the throttle or any sudden steering movements.

"Look at where you want to be going. If you look at something, you tend to steer towards it - staring at a ditch or wall may end in you hitting it.

"If you lose grip at the front wheels, gently reduce the power to give the wheels a chance to steer.

"In a rear-wheel drive car let the power off gently if the rear tyres lose their grip. If the front tyres go as well, straighten the steering."

If harsh winters are here to stay, as many predict, it will be well worth following the experts' advice.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 7, 2010
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